ROMA (2018)

Roma Poster

After all the Oscar buzz, it might be low-hanging fruit to review the movie that walked away with Best Cinematography and Best Foreign-Language Film, as well as Best Director. I mean, it might be, but Roma is right there on Netflix. And all of these awards are wholly descriptive of Cuaron. He’s amazing, and he may be my personal favorite. And these benchmarks are plain to see in other films he’s directed, like the ambitious and heartwrenching Children Of Men, another favorite of mine. Cuaron takes a story and makes you really care about the characters. This is both with who he chooses for characters to have told his story, and for the careful cinematography, he uses to accomplish this task.

Roma takes place in Mexico and is a real character drama, starring newcomer Yalitza Aparicio as Cleodegaria “Cleo” Gutiérrez, a live-in maid and nanny of an upper-middle-class family in Mexico City in the 1970’s. They live in a neighborhood called Roma Colonia, for which the movie is named. Alfonso Cuaron aptly named this in tribute to his own childhood neighborhood in Mexico City. Cleo works with another maid, Adela (Aparicio’s real-life best friend, Nancy Garcia Garcia), to take care of a family of four children, Pepe, Sofi, Paco, and Toño, and their dog Borras. Their parents, Sofie (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), have Sofie’s mother Teresa (Verónica García) living with them as well. Sofie and Antonio have lucrative professions, a palatial home, but a strained marriage.

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One day, Antonio goes away on a trip to a conference for his work in Canada. Cleo notices, as the entire film’s narrative is shot through her perspective, that Sofie and Antonio’s marriage is not going well. Meanwhile, she goes out with Adela, and they both go out with their boyfriends. Cleo and her martial-arts enthusiast boyfriend Fermin decide to rent a room. Fast forward to a few months later when Cleo and Fermin decide to go to a movie together. Cleo works up the courage to tell him while at the film that she thinks she is pregnant. He excuses himself slightly before the movie’s finish, claiming to be using the restroom. She waits for him, but he never comes back.

Depressed, Cleo then works up the courage to tell her employer, Sofie, convinced that Sofie will fire her. Sofie is in the middle of dealing with her own crumbling marriage and running interference with the children. But she is gentle and patient with Cleo. She takes the time to get Cleo to the doctor and acclimatized to her new situation. Getting Cleo adjusted to her current new way of life is difficult. There are many pitfalls, but she works hard as a Mexican nanny does. She eventually tracks down Fermin, who has disappeared, with the help of Adela’s boyfriend. But he shuts her out and threatens her and her unborn baby’s death if she ever comes near him again, preferring his cult-like martial arts school’s company.

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The climax of Roma is an emotional one, and there are many heartbreaking lessons that each character must learn. Cuaron’s command of cinematography is transient. Punctuated with perfect long shots throughout, his camerawork perfectly encapsulates the hustle and bustle of Mexican 1970’s life. Since Cuaron keeps his cast list relatively small, I relaxed into watching the movie, and was able to name and place each character easily. Despite the movie being in black and white, and Mexican Spanish language and the Indigenous Mixtec language. There was something lovely but also timeless about seeing a film in black and white, because he doesn’t focus on product labels or other dated fashions of the times.

Rather, Cuaron goes for more classic gestures, like which movies were popular in theatres in Mexico in 1971. It does require paying attention to other seasonal cues, however, because the time lapses in the film are many to describe a pregnancy. The scope of the movie never loses focus in its narrative, and never becomes too cluttered with detail. And meanwhile, I took the black and white medium as a cue that there were many historical cues to focus on, like the Mexican “Dirty War”.

While not dominating the narrative, the war’s events tend to creep into focus now and again at pivotal moments in ROMA’s story. For more information about the Mexican insurgents in the 1960’s and 1970’s and Mexico’s “Dirty War”, click here, The Real History Behind the Movie Roma.

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Mexican Indigenous Yalitza Aparicio is stunning in her first ever role. As Cleo, there were many heartfelt moments for me throughout the film watching her. Dedicated to his own nanny growing up, Mexican native Alfonso Cuaron describes Roma as “deeply personal” because he wanted to recreate a story about his own youth growing up with the nanny who raised him, named Libo. Cuaron had a script prepared, but did not use it. Instead, he preferred to shoot each scene in chronological order, allowing actors like Aparicio improvise most of their lines in the scene the day of filming. In a meaningful gesture, Cuaron invited Libo, his old nanny, to come and visit the set and watch the filming while he filmed Roma.

I’m not sure if it was mostly because of Oscar buzz that information about Cuaron’s directing style and camerawork was so readily at my fingertips. But I had a blast finding out all of these facts about this movie, as foreign-language films are my bread and butter. Even if you’re not a foreign movie type, or a black and white film type, the film Roma has deep meaning with profound themes of loss and bravery.

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